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To Eliminate Patriarchy, Men Need To Suffer

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45-year-old Rajesh feels proud about sending his daughter to Delhi for her college education. Living in a village that is undergoing urbanization, very few people send their daughters to study outside in a big city, like Delhi. Rajesh has provided all the opportunities to his daughter Ananya that he was able to provide. He treats Ananya the same way he treats his son, Anmay. Ananya is studying in the first year of her college and nowadays, reading about patriarchy. While she was trying to make sense of if her brother and father discriminate against her or not, she witnessed something shocking, and horrible. One day, she found that her father has beaten her mother because she tried to convince him that they should get their daughter married after her graduation. While her mother was trying to inhibit Ananya’s education and career plans, his father wanted to give Ananya all the freedom and considered himself progressive. Is he progressive even if he beats his wife? Is he a misogynist even if he advocates all the freedom for his daughter?

It is important to realize that despite all the agitation by women, it’s the men who need to change themselves.

Ajay is Ananya’s classmate. Girls in Ananya’s class find he is differently uncomfortable than other boys. Where other boys bring up their male ego every single day in some passive argument, Ajay is extra humble to them. They find Ajay to be a good person, but one can easily tell the difference between when he talks to a girl and when he talks to a boy. Even if it feels good to be treated well, somewhere deep down the girls realise it’s a kind of discrimination.

But Ajay, what he realises, is afraid inside. Not afraid of social interaction or girls, but he is afraid of himself. He fears that his actions might reflect the patriarchal signs, the dominance, which was inherently a part of his growing up years in a small town. In this way, he fails to realise that he is being more humble than he wanted to become. He is unable to contemplate that he is discriminating, this time in a different benevolent manner.

There is this famous quote which is often attributed to one of the known personalities including Marshall McLuhan, Winston Churchill, and John Culkin, “We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.”

Patriarchy too fits this definition. Patriarchy, now dissolved in each drop of our blood, is a tool that was created to subordinate women. No matter what political explanation critics of feminism try to come up with, this fact cannot be overlooked that violation of natural rights of women was one of the prime purposes behind the creation of this tool.

The tool which has been integrated into our collective existence, and shaped our social reality into painting a horrible picture of society. Day by day as we encounter women speaking up about their experiences, this picture becomes darker. The question that stands with all the force is, is there a way we can destroy this tool?

There is another question that comes up when one tries to look into the possibilities of elimination of patriarchy. Considering a hypothetical situation, if we become able to instantly change the belief systems of every single human and we change them all into believing that all the men and women are equal, will the patriarchy cease to exist from that very moment?

Even if this hypothetical situation comes true, the answer will be a strong no, I believe. Patriarchy, when created, was based on the belief that men are superior to women. But it is now a stand-alone social fact in itself. It is shaping our social reality and will continue to shape it, maybe with a bit lesser strength in absence of its founding belief. The tool, being integrated into our brains and collective existence, has trained our being, our sense of the world, the stories we hear and tell about the world, the dreams we see. No wonder why the new generation working in big cities and considering themselves progressive, return to their patriarchal homes, find the idea of feminism too discomforting, even for themselves. You can easily find examples of engineers, who work in developed societies like California and New York City but when they return to their homes, which are semi-urban developing societies in India, do not feel the need of raising a single question against the patriarchy that is dissolved in the atmosphere of their own family.

Ajay, in the example above, is aware of patriarchy and wants to change his thought process to get rid of it, and in this process, he shifts to some different kind of discrimination. This is what patriarchy does to men, who want to change themselves. If you no longer want to be an oppressor, you go against your training. I am not saying that it is not possible to eliminate patriarchy from our minds, but it can be so much harder in a vicious patriarchal society like India.

Ajay, on the other hand, fights himself in trying to track his efforts as the girls around him may not be completely aware of what he is going through even if he tries to explain it to them. And in Indian society, even questioning the notions of masculinity and femininity can make your life miserable by landing you on a terrain of loneliness waiting for the society to grow a collective consciousness.

The debate on feminism is often distorted in India, as you can find people who clearly say – ‘I’m not a feminist.’ Calling even not-so-feminists feminazis and considering them horrible persons is a notion borrowed from the west, but feeling an urge to insult them is one of the new manifestations of this mighty tool called patriarchy. At a time when social media pages creating a counter-narrative against feminism and promoting ‘meninism’ are getting popular, it becomes crucial to understand that gender discrimination is the product of the same patriarchy which is working in different ways.

Men, who as fathers hate to see themselves putting restrictions on their daughters, are deeply afraid of the society that they created for themselves. Men, who as lovers want to express themselves differently in love, do not like the way their expressions are compared to the established notions of masculinity. Even in an educated Indian society, they are unable to create an atmosphere, which provides women with the same space that it provides to men.

The point for men is to realise that if you don’t like seeing women prejudiced against you, you need to wage a war against patriarchy. And, since your gender is on the side of the powerful, the biggest fight you need to fight is against yourself.

The most important thing at the beginning of this fight is the acceptance. Men need to accept that they are the oppressors and whether they see it or not, they are continuously reinforcing patriarchy. They need to rigorously question themselves. When Bengaluru mass molestation happened, a hashtag was trending on Twitter – #NotAllMen. This incident was a product of the misogyny we carry as a society. Men need to come to the front and accept that even if molesters were some criminals, it is them who run this society. They need to realize that it is all women who face harassment and yes, it is all men who are either harassers or support harassment by not fighting against it and giving safety manuals to women. It’s them who consider women as an object. The thing is in the head and no one is ready to try hard to change it.

As Supriya Nair puts it, “It’s not enough to mourn for rape victims post-facto as India’s daughters; it’s more important to accept the fact that the rapists are India’s sons.”

Men need to accept that it is them who are at the centre of patriarchy. Men have the power patriarchy provides them and they need to lose it.

Roxane Gay, an associate professor at Purdue University, calls for action, “It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating.”

If men choose to begin the fight against their patriarchal self, they need to test their evolution continuously at each step, which is not possible until they accept the authority of the highest ethical values. Until they become completely open to discussion and share their ill-beliefs to be busted, until they ask women about the wrong they find in their behaviour, and they discuss with other men to create a collective consciousness in day-to-day life, this fight is not possible to win.

Men will suffer or are suffering when they go through this process. This suffering is very important and valuable. It will provide them with the idea of how much women suffer in the system they make them live in. This suffering will not make men able to ask women if they are even or not, but this is the very first step of this battle.

Men need to show that they care about women and they are ready to fix this society. It will be then, that we will realise the time has come for women and men to create an equal, just, and better society. Together.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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